2015 is a monumental year for Grenada’s minute island of Carriacou, marking the 50th anniversary of their most famous vessel and the beginning of one of the longest running regattas in the region.
In the 1960s, J. Linton Rigg sailed to Carriacou, moving ashore to take command of the Mermaid Tavern. With a maritime history that included work with famed yacht designer Starling Burgess and having started the Out Island Regatta in the Bahamas, it is no surprise that he was watching the beach. Boats were built on the water’s edge but, he noted, interest and numbers were dwindling.
Rigg hatched a plan that would not only spark a resurgence of boatbuilding but spur local economy as well. He teamed with master shipwright Zepharan MacLaren and together they created the sloop Mermaid of Carriacou. Seven months after that 44-foot gaffer was launched, the island held the first Carriacou Regatta with every entrant after the EC$500 purse offered by Rigg.
His boat won that year—and for nine years that followed—but builders and sailors were not dismayed. More vessels were built to work the sea, fishing or hauling cargo and contraband but each August, they trained and tuned up for the big prize.
The art of building with wood lives on in Carriacou despite the modern wonders of steel and fiberglass. Tools and skills have been handed down through multiple generations and today, there are a few builders who still make their living crafting boats on the beach.
Recently, I set out to see the new build in the hamlet of Windward. The journey began as I boarded a local bus. On mentioning my mission and Mermaid’s anniversary, passenger Samuel Alister said, in his rich West Indian accent: “I was there when they launch; do a lotta cookin’ and drinks. The poleese band was there. I was in primary school. I does take part in launching she. They have a block and tackle. I help pull it into the sea.”
Another man, George Bethel, chimed in, “Zeph MacLaren wuz my mother’s brother. I remember the day Mermaid launch. I remember the setting of the keel; layin’ the frames. I play there. I was eight-years-old.” Mermaid of Carriacou was an old friend to many on the island and the new vessel was just as popular.
The bus stopped at Windward’s Disco and they waved enthusiastically, pointing me toward the beach path that would lead to the new builds. I followed a wire and palm frond fence until I found two vessels: One, the much talked about sloop and the other, a 65ft cargo vessel.
The boats were surrounded by piles of wood and makeshift tool benches; four men worked industriously. They stopped long enough for introductions and a thumbs-up allowing me to photograph the action. Visitors are, I surmised, a common occurrence in that yard, when I spotted the wooden ‘donation’ box on the bow of the new sloop.
The designer and overseer of the project is Alwyn Enoe, who lists among his many credits the building of Genesis, Zemi, and Ocean Nomad. His final build, Exodus, was completed with his sons in an apprenticeship effort to pass on the skills and tools that Alwyn inherited decades before from shipwrights on the beach.
The Exodus project, from idea to build, launch, and first race, was filmed by Alexis Andrews for the inspiriting film, Vanishing Sail, which had its world premiere in May at the St. Barths Film Festival.
Enoe’s sons, Callistas and Terry, are the hands-on guys for the latest Carriacou sloop and they’re working against the clock, hoping to be the fastest entrant in the Golden Jubilee race in August. They did take a short break to attend the premiere of Vanishing Sail, since, after all, the three Enoe brothers and father, Alwyn, were the stars of the show. But back in Windward, it’s an all- consuming business to get the boat completed, despite the often calamitous challenges of island time.
Calistas described the 42ft sloop with 12ft of beam, “It’s an old, newish design. The bow’s different.” This vessel, like each since Mermaid, has had some minor changes and it’s during the Regatta that designers learn the outcome of their art.
For this 50th Regatta, the new vessel will sail in company with many of her older sisters and no matter which vessel turns out to be the fastest, each of them will be a winner.
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end: www.brucesmithsart.com